Friday, June 17, 2005

Opposing the War and Opposing Immediate Withdrawal

In my recent post entitled "The Left and Iraq" I received several negative comments that essentially amount to this: "If you don't support immediately leaving Iraq, you should volunteer yourself because you tacitly support the war." This is an absurd argument. But it is a common argument as well. I want to go over both the major points made in these comments and my reasons for opposing immediate withdrawal.

1. Opposing the war. Obviously this war has been a complete disaster from Day One. There's little reason to go into all the reasons this is so. But everyone reading this blog probably agrees with me here. Bush and the boys and their obsessions with Iraq have gotten us into an unfortunate situation without leaving the Iraqis really any better off. There are many reasons to oppose this war: the lack of a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the Bush/Powell/Blair lies about WMDs in Iraq, the use of unilateral American force (don't forget the Poles), etc. etc. I opposed this war and I still do oppose this war. It was poorly planned with unclear objectives. It was based on lies. There was no realistic plan for the peace. It was driven by ideologues who knew nothing about Iraq. I would even more stringently oppose expanding the war to Syria or Iran. Meanwhile Osama Bin Laden continues to run free, nearly 4 years after 9/11.

2. Opposing immediate withdrawal. What positive would come from immediate withdrawal? Almost certainly, Iraq would plunge into an active and bloody civil war. This may be only somewhat worse than the relatively passive civil war they are already in. But to leave would create a really large power vacuum. Who would fill that vacuum? Islamic extremists of the Zarqawi type? Iran? More terrorist organizations? What about civil rights for women? Do you think those are going to last for one second after we depart? Do you think women will be receiving educations? Women in parliament? Not going to happen. We would create great instability and that is what the Middle East does not need.

Some say that every US soldier who dies over there has been murdered by Bush and those who support the war. And certainly Bush has a lot of American blood on his hands and I hope he pays for someday, somehow. If there is a Hell, they have a special room for the planners of this war. But is American withdrawal from Iraq going to cut down on the loss of lives? It will cut down on the loss of American lives. But I ask those who want immediate withdrawal, are American lives worth more than Iraqi lives? If not, how can you justify an action that will cause the loss of more Iraqi lives even if it saves some American lives?

These arguments make me shake my head at the lack of a coherent foreign policy for progressives. We demand civil rights around the world. We criticize when mass murders, civil wars, and genocide takes place and the US does nothing about it. But if it takes the US military and even violence to ensure that the world is a better, safer, and more just place, we run like hell. If only those Sunnis would listen to reason and not try to kill Shiites and Kurds. If only Islamic extremists would respect the rights of women. Well, that's not going to happen very easily. If you want the rights of women respected and a Taliban like government not coming to power in Iraq, what are you going to do about it? What are we willing to do to see that our core values of human rights and respect for humanity, tolerance, and diversity come to pass.

Answer me, progressives of the world--are you willing to do anything at all that involves the use of the military to ensure that our basic values take hold around the world?

For I am. While this war is a disaster and is immoral, we don't have a choice to go back in time and pressure Iraq to change in a different way. We have two options--we stick it out and make the best of it, trying to help create a system where democracy is a possibility and human rights are relatively respected. Or we leave, create even more instability in the region, let the country devolve into a civil war far bloodier than now, and create an atmosphere for Islamic fundamentalism even greater than what we've done so far. But hey, we'll be able to self-righteously say that it's not our problem anymore. Boy will that do a lot of good.

There is one thing that progressives have to recognize. A coherent foreign policy is absolutely vital for us to have a say in how America and the world works. We can't just wring our hands and criticize what the Republicans do. We have to have a legitimate alternative. John Kerry lost the election for many reasons. One reason, and maybe not an insignificant one, was that the Democratic party had no coherent foreign policy. There was nothing we could say we would do differently that made sense to anyone.

Now you might say, "well I'm not a Democrat. I didn't even really support John Kerry." Some of you might have even been crazy enough to vote for Nader again. I only marginally supported Kerry myself. But what is the left/progressive foreign policy option? Is there anything besides withdrawal? I don't think there is. And while maybe you can convince enough Americans of your position for us to leave Iraq, is non-engagement with the world, except in things like arts exchanges and human rights conferences and of course tourism, really a foreign policy?

Now some would say, and have said to me, that if you don't support immediate withdrawal you should just go over there and fight yourself. If you won't go and fight yourself, than you are a hypocrite. This is what they say to me and I don't even support the damn war!! I want to talk about this a bit. We have a military for a reason. When you sign up for the military, you know it is a possibility that you are going to have to go fight and die. Many people sign up for the educational possibilities and other benefits. But you make a bargain with the government when you take that education that you will have to sacrifice yourself. So the argument that we support our troops by wanting to bring them home is not very satisfying to me. If that is as far as your support of the troops go, what is the point of having a military? You have to be willing to go to war in some circumstances. Now a unilateral invasion of Iraq is not one of those circumstances maybe. But for progressives, is there any situation where the use of military force is acceptable? What is Canada starting killing all the French-speakers? Would we be willing to use our military to stop the deaths of millions?

Maybe I don't support the troops then. Maybe I think that many of them are getting what they asked for. I've heard and read numerous stories since 9/11 about soldiers, from boot camp all the way to combat, talk about how much fun it was going to be to kill towelheads. I just have trouble feeling too terrible about people who took this bargain and then dehumanized the Islamic world to have to pay the cost. I don't want them to die of course. I wish we weren't over there at all. But we are and I don't have any great compunction about asking soldiers to fulfill their part of the bargain they made with the US government. That doesn't mean that George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney don't have the blood of all of those troops on their hands.

On the other hand, unlike the Republicans, I am deeply disturbed about how we do not support the troops. Supporting the troops is not about wrapping yourself in the flag. It's about not making them pay for their own uniforms. It's about not making them pay for their own meals after they are injured in battle. It's about making sure that they have proper battle armor when they have to fight. It's about providing adequate VA care for the rest of the soldiers' lives. Republicans don't support any of this. And ultimately, it's the Republicans who don't support the troops when it counts.

What about the first war with Iraq? There were huge protests over that war. But Saddam Hussein had invaded another nation for the purpose of annexing it. He was killing and raping thousands of Kuwait residents. Say what you want about Kuwait, but if those are not circumstances that justify using the military, what are? I cannot think of a more important question for progressives to come to grips with about the world. What is America's place in the world and under what circumstance should we use force to ensure, not the interests of the US necessarily, but the safety and peace of the entire world?